Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Nosferatu in Venice

Nosferatu in Venice

Original Title: Nosferatu a Venezia

Directed by: Augusto Caminito

Italy, 1988
Vampires/Horror, 97 min

Available from RareCultFilms

In 1979 Werner Herzog quite boldly took to remaking F.W. Murnau’s expressionistic classic Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens 1922. A strange move as Herzog already had made himself a name as a director and perhaps even more considering the importance of the original flick. This however didn’t stop Herzog who in many ways surpass the original and neither did it stop other filmmakers from venturing into Nosferatu territory, perhaps to lesser success.
Almost a decade later screenwriter/producer Augusto Caminito got more than he bargained for when he set about making something of a loosely connected sequel to Herzog’s seventies arthouse success. Although being Klaus Kinski and holding the largest ego in the world, Caminito’s production soon ran into trouble when original director, and veteran on the scene of Italian low budget horror fares, Mario Caiano stormed off the project, or was fired depending on which of the myths you want to believe in, after one of many loud fierce arguments with troublesome superstar Klaus Kinski. As the story goes La vittima designata (The Designated Victim) 1971 director Maurizio Lucidi directed parts of the movie, Star Crash 1978 and Contamination 1980 director Luigi Cozzi helped out and directed sections of the film, and according to his autobiography Kinski too directed a fair amount of the flick, although I wouldn’t know about that. Finally Caminito himself stepped away from his producer/screenwriter desk and took over the role of director himself.

After a rather out of place rural opening the movie skips to Venice. Vampire hunter Professor Paris Catalano [Christopher Plummer] arrives at the house of Princess [Maria Cumani Quasimodo] who with her friend and priest Don Alvise [Donald Pleasence] has summoned him to help her with a situation… with the bad dreams she has been corresponding with him about. Helietta Canins [Barbara De Rossi] takes Castelano to an underground crypt where they talk about the possible inhabitant of the large coffin that lies there. Catalano is curious about a painting that Princess has had taken down before he arrived and here starts a series of backstory explanatory flashbacks concerning the family and Nosferatu. They all wind up going to visit a medium to help them dig deeper into the family history and low and behold, the vampire awakens and leaves his crypt!
So far it’s all been a wind up and build towards the vampire movie iconic moment – the ascent of the monster! From here on Kinski wanders around Venice searching for Helietta summons him with some chants when the medium releases him. Unsurprisingly Helietta, and her sister Maria [Anne Knecht] turn out to be the descendants of Nosferatu’s long lost love, Letiza, the woman on the painting. After decades of longing for his lost love, Nosferatu seeks out the woman who summoned him and plans to take her as his mate.
No movie moving within the Gothic realm is complete without at least one scene featuring Gypsies – and Nosferatu in Venice features a splendid Gypsy-queen and her band of happy dancers moment. As the carnival in Venice starts, Nosferatu arrives and starts his rampage which leads him right into the arms of Helietta and the awaiting threat of vampire hunter Pars Catalano and the build up towards the final battle and the last act which has some pretty effective twists luring in the shadows to shake the audience around.
It’s a shame that the movie get’s s much slack and there’s some really decent moments in Nosferatu In Venice, and despite reprising a previous role, Kinski does give a pretty good performance – as he mostly did, even on the movies he supposedly hated working on. Nosferatu In Venice really suffers from that somewhat unjust bad reputation because it is a better movie that it’s said to be. Yes, it plays safe within the realm sticking to rules and regulations of the genre, but at the same time it dares to stick it’s neck out and twist formula around, even if it’s in the smallest ways. It could be because of the somewhat slow pacing, but at the same time it has a few neat effects and some nudity towards the ending. It might be because it's perhaps more of an arty horror flick than your regular gorefest. Anyways, I had fond memories of the movie, and they are still there after revisiting it again.
Being a complex actor to work with, there where obviously issues with Kinski on set. One of the most apparent being his refusal to shave his head and completely dedicate himself to mimicking his former portrayal of Nosferatu, hence the full head of tattered hair he sports here. Caminito’s movie does bring a few of Herzog’s traits with him through, such as the rats symbolising plague, a metaphor for death, and also lifted over from the original sources is the ”totes angst” of the vampire. The totes angst of Nosferatu here is rather straightforward. Longing for love, evading death. It’s a romanticised portrayal, which is not to far from the original source as the vampire quite often holds a since long gone passion for a former lover and realises his own mortality when that fire is later relit by a like worthy character… think of Mina Harker who in the original Bram Stoker book reminds the vampire of his long lost love which makes him obsessed that he moves from Transylvania to England to be near her… not saying that Dracula is the original vampire story. I’m pro John Polidori for that one.
Something that caught my attention this time around and perhaps it’s something that is quite under used in the movie is the angst about dying found in the Plummer’s Catalano character. One of the first lines of dialogue he has is when he tells the Princess that he’s going to die soon. It’s a cheap but effective gimmick that hooks the audience as we want to know why he’s going to die, how will he die, and how come he knows he’s going to die? Unfortunately it’s never taken any further than being mentioned a few times. Neither is it brought up in the final battle between Catalano and Nosferatu – instead Catalano packs up and fuck’s off proclaiming that he’s been defeated. This obviously sets up Kinski as the winner in the battle over life and death. Now it may seem strange, but at the same time it’s a fascinating twist as the vampire genre commonly suffers from the problem that the audience end up rooting for the vampire and not the vampire hunter. There’s an effective little symbolic scene to end his arch in the movie, but it’s still a shame that one didn’t use the “I’m going to die” threat more creative.
The somewhat out of place opening sequence where hunters accidentally shoot a bat sets a tone for the movie. Where it’s considered to be bad luck to kill a bat, there’s no love lost on the ones that suckle blood from the farm animals. Vampires are no longer a threat, but more something that one can toss aside and let the dogs mangle. It’s an odd sequence as the rural landside of the title sequence and opening scene then is discarded for the tight corridors of Venice. This may be a metaphorical moment of the movie as they claim to ignore vampire folklore, i.e. rules and regulations, and that’s exactly what happens in the movie, traditional vampire lore is cast aside. The vampire can survive shotgun blasts to the gut even though it leaves a gaping hole in his stomach, he can roam the streets in daylight and has a reflection. In a sense it says that traditional rules are abandoned, and new ones are put in play. This is obviously a trick that most modern vampire flick tries to do, bend the rules and come up with a new variation, although here it's still quite innovative.
Finally something has to be said about the soundtrack. Luigi Ceccarelli performed a lot of the music on the movie, and if it sounds familiar it’s because a large amount of it is renditions of the 1985 Vangelis album Mask. Although it may be something that can scar a movie with the music is very specific for a certain time period – much like the eighties Metal that plagued several Italian genre pieces, it sounded great at the time, but shit today – the electro orchestrated ambience of Ceccarelli work for Nosferatu in Venice.
Perhaps after getting a taste for directing, Kinski would follow Nosferatu in Venice with Kinski Paganini 1989 a movie he directed all on his own, and which would become his last movie. Caminito on the other hand never directed a movie again but did produce a handful of decent pieces including Kinski Paganini, Abel Ferrara’s King of New York 1990, Tinto Brass Paprika 1991, and Marco Ferreri’s House of Smiles 1992.
Image:
Widescreen 16x9
Audio:
Stereo 2.0, English Dialogue, which means the beloved work of Nick Alexander graces the movie.
Extras:
None, although this is composite of various DVD & VHS resulting in a brilliant version, so that should make up for it.
Here are the Japanese and German trailers.



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